Fashion industry’s most successful photographers have a way of capturing the zeitgeist of our culture and documenting the changes that take place in our daily lives. A distinctive and unique style, which can’t be replicated by any other, is what makes a good photographer great. From Helmut Newton to Annie Leibovitz, this post features 10 iconic fashion photographers who have each revolutionized fashion in their own way.
Known as the ‘King of Kink’, Helmut Newton is one of the most iconic fashion photographers to have lived. The provocative and distinctive style seen in his black and white images are still to this day recognizable. In 1957, Newton landed a contract with British Vogue, and from then on worked with clients from Harper’s Bazaar to Playboy. Honoured with many awards throughout his career, the French photographer’s most iconic image is known as ‘Le Smoking’, featuring a model smoking a cigarette in a Yves Saint Laurent suit on Rue Aubriot in 1975 Paris.
Having photographed every single cover of Italian Vogue from 1988 to today as well as every Prada campaign since 2004, Steven Meisel is one of today’s most important photographers. He is best known for his controversial fashion editorials, like the one of model’s in a mental institute for Italian Vogue, but his portfolio also includes commercial images for clients like Barneys New York, Perry Ellis, Valentino, Versace, and the Gap. The American photographer is also close with celebrities, and in addition to shooting with Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and Whitney Houston among many others, he is the one behind Madonna’s 1984 album, Like a Virgin.
Richard Avedon was an American fashion and portrait photographer, known for capturing emotion and personality in his images. For a fun fact, the 1957 film Funny Face, starring Audrey Hepburn, is loosely based on Avedon’s early life. During his career, he shot a total of 148 covers of Vogue and he was one of legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland’s staff photographers, bringing her visions to life by shooting imaginative and exotic fashion stories for her around the world. Avedon was also behind many notable fashion advertisements of his time, including a Calvin Klein campaign with 15-year-old Brooke Shields, Revlon’s ‘The Most Unforgettable Women’ campaign, and an advertisement series for Gianni Versace beginning with the spring/summer campaign 1980.
As one of the more contemporary photographers on this list, Mario Testino is originally from Peru and is one of today’s most influential fashion photographers. Testino often captures celebrities in casually glamorous environments and his career skyrocketed in 1997 when he photographed Princess Diana for a cover of Vanity Fair. With a sharp and vibrant style, his works include a mix of cultural and commercial, and some of his clients are Burberry, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana, as well as fashion magazines from Vogue to Vanity Fair.
The only female photographer listed here, Annie Leibovitz is an American photographer with one of today’s most distinctive and imaginative aesthetics. She is known for shooting celebrities as well as magical fashion stories, like one of her famous ones with Natalia Vodianova as Alice in Wonderland in Vogue. Early on in her career Leibovitz became chief photographer for Rolling Stone in 1973, ten years later she joined Vanity Fair and also started working for Vogue. In addition to magazine work, she has also created successful campaigns for clients like American Express and the Gap. Her most iconic images include a photograph of Hilary Clinton in 1998, which was Vogue’s first cover with a First Lady, and her famous shot of John Lennon naked next to Yoko Ono, taken just a few hours before he was killed.
American Irving Penn was one of the 20th century’s most influential photographers. In addition to shooting portraits and fashion editorials, he was known for capturing modernist still life images of food, metal, bones and other small objects. In 1943, he actually photographed Vogue’s first and only still life cover. With an artistic background, Penn studied drawing, painting, graphics and industrial artwork at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art (now the University of the Arts), which clearly translated into his photography. With an emphasis on form and shape, and work characterized by simplicity, composition and clarity, his career lasted for almost 70 years and his clients included Vogue, Issey Miyake, and Clinique.
Paolo Roversi is known for dreamy images, which often have dark tones and slightly haunting atmospheres. He’s an Italian-born contemporary photographer and his works have been featured in Marie Claire, the Italian editions of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and campaigns for innovative Japanese brands like Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons. Roversi’s career began in the mid 1970s, as British photographer Lawrence Sackmann took him on as assistant and taught him the ins and outs of being a professional photographer.
David Bailey is a British photographer, best known for capturing the spirit of the Swinging 60s. He has a straight-forward and clean style, but at the same time imaginative and thought-provoking, like shown in the image below. In 1960, Bailey landed a contract as a fashion photographer for British Vogue and he also did a lot of freelance work throughout the era, photographing iconic figures of the time like The Beatles, Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, Jean Shrimpton, and notorious East End gangsters, the Kray twins. The film Blowup (1966), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, was inspired by Bailey — and in 2012 BBC made a film of his iconic 1962 photoshoot with Jean Shrimpton, entitled We’ll Take Manhattan.
Bruce Weber stands out of the crowd because of his classic Americana style and his fresh way of portraying male models. He is an American photographer and occasional filmmaker, and his first fashion images appeared in the late 1970s in GQ magazine. Weber’s images are known to feature a lot of skin and he often displays men wearing only their underwear, which has been controversial from the start, but has made him one of the most iconic fashion photographers. In the 1980s and 1990s, he went on to revolutionize men’s fashion photography with campaigns featuring beautiful American hunks for brands like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Abercrombie & Fitch as well as spreads in magazines like Vogue, Elle and Vanity Fair.
Known as one of the first photographers to incorporate narratives into his editorials, Peter Lindbergh is a German photographer and director. His portfolio includes Anna Wintour’s first cover of Vogue in 1988 and he has directed a number of critically acclaimed movies, documentaries and short fashion films. Around the 1990s, in Lindbergh’s early career, he changed the way models were portrayed and was a huge driving force behind the era of the supermodels. With an aesthetic that resembles documentary photography, he started photographing Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, and Linda Evangelista among others in a new and timeless way, which humanized them and enhanced their natural beauty. Today, Lindbergh’s powerful, honest and intimate black-and-white portraits continue to stand out as some of the best in contemporary fashion.